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Lightweight Workflow Can Be The Most Productive

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Andrew McAfee sang the praises of “lightweight workflow.” But was he really talking about reducing churn or just trying to better leverage interruptions?

In a commentary in Forbes, McAfee refered to new software applications like Chatter. These are tools designed to encourage to take advantage of the “social” nature of modern computing. As McAfee wrote:

Both of them are big steps toward the goal of using technology to more effectively support how knowledge workers actually work, and work together.

The first of these innovations is clever bridging between the realms of structured and unstructured data. A review of Chatter in Infoworld states that “Chatter offers a Twitter-style ‘following’ mode, but with a twist: Instead of just following people, you can also follow data sets like price lists and client lists. When a data set you are following gets updated, you are immediately notified of the change. If, for example, you’re about to make a presentation to a client and your company’s pricing data has been changed, you’ll be in the loop instead of unintentionally giving the client outdated information.”

I like this idea a lot. Instead of requiring people to access or look up a bit of structured data, it instead puts the information where they’re looking anyway: in the middle of their steady stream of updates. Facebook, Twitter and their relatives have conditioned a lot of us to keep checking that stream throughout the day, so it makes a ton of sense to include machine- and event-generated updates along with the human-generated ones we’re already used to.

Streamwork and Wave do something similar by allowing users to drop enterprise IT widgets into the middle of human conversations. For example, a widget could be a live look into the ERP system at the status and estimated ship date of an important customer order that’s going to be late because of a problem. While a team is using Streamwork or Wave to work on the problem, the widget will let them know if what they’re doing is working–it will automatically update the estimated ship date every time it changes. Such live windows into structured systems and their data can be tremendously valuable. They put relevant information directly in the flow of work, and in the environment where the work is taking place, letting everyone involved be better informed and more productive.

This feature certainly sounds intriguing. Wouldn’t it be great if you could “friend” important information and receive “Status Updates” just like you do from long lost pals on Facebook?

employee satisfaction

© Flickr user Infusionsoft

However, it should also be obvious to even the casual user of social media technologies that such a workflow could become overwhelming. If you have even a few dozen active friends on Facebook, you can’t begin to keep up with all of their activity. That’s acceptable for social connections, where we are expected to occasionally drop out of the loop. At the office, however, too much information is already a problem. Will lightweight, social workflows make the situation worse?

There are no easy answers. It certainly is convenient to be able to “follow” a book at your local library and receive an automated email when your it’s your turn to borrow a copy. On the other hand, we’ve all deleted marketing messages from companies that we do care about because of timing or lack of interest. A lightweight, unintentional, structureless workflow is like being surrounded by feathers. The soft texture may be comforting, but there’s nothing to really grab onto. In the end, you can still get buried.

At AccelaWork, we’re constantly reviewing the latest approaches to workflow to help our clients. New technologies can increase productivity and satisfaction, but only if they match the culture and personality of the organization and its stakeholders. Learn more by contacting our corporate productivity consultants!

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